Saturday 21 December 2013

The Earliest Wargame

It is, rather surprisingly, that time of year again, the bit where I try to do something a bit lighter as a kind of early Christmas present to the assembled company.

This time, I would like to consider a very early wargame. Now, we know that wargaming has been around for a while. For example, Frederick the III of Prussia, I seem to recall, had toy soldiers. And of course, there is the terracotta army from China.

But were these for wargames?

The earliest literary evidence I have so far stumbled upon for a wargame is this:

And you, O mortal, take a brick and set it before you. On it portray a city, Jerusalem; and put siege works against it, and build a siege wall against it, and cast up a ramp against it; set camps also against it, and plant battering rams against it all round. Then take an iron plate and place it as an iron wall between you and the city; set your face towards it, and let it be in a state of siege, and press the siege against it. This is a sign for the house of Israel.

I guess that the last line rather gives the source away. This comes from the book of Ezekiel, Chapter 4, verses 1 – 3 (NRSV in the version above). It is, clearly, an account of a siege wargame.

Commentators on Ezekiel have been rather dismissive of the passage, describing it as a child’s wargame, a sign that Jerusalem would be besieged. Nevertheless, it is a very early description of such a game.

Now the date is, of course, a bit tricky. According to the fairly little I can find out, Ezekiel was in the first tranche of exiles to Babylon from Jerusalem, which suggests that the date of the above passage is before 597 BC, when Jerusalem was captured by Nebuchadrezzar. On the other hand, the book of Ezekiel is generally very odd indeed, the texts we have are not very reliable, and the book is not in chronological order, so I would imagine that other options, and dates, abound.  

Nevertheless, this is certainly the earliest clear account of a wargame I am aware of, although I am willing to stand corrected.

And a very Happy Christmas to everyone who reads these warblings.


  1. Compliments of the season squire!

  2. And a very Happy Christmas to you and yours. Thanks for all your thoughts over the last year and all the best for the next one.

  3. God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay.


    God rest ye merry merchants, may ye make the yule tide pay. (Tom Lehrer)